ROSEBURG — A move to improve the care of foster children relegated to living in hotels has resulted in 25 percent more children removed from their families being housed in institutions such as former juvenile jails, The Oregonian/OregonLive has found.
A year ago, Oregon child welfare leaders signed a court settlement promising to stop housing vulnerable foster children in hotels, state offices and juvenile detention centers instead of with families.
State caseworkers had increasingly relied on those makeshift methods as Oregon faced a shortage of foster homes, particularly ones equipped to care for children grappling with trauma, mental health challenges or developmental disabilities.
Since July 2018, the state has had around 400 foster children assigned to live in such settings, according to state figures. In September 2016, when two foster children and their advocates sued the state over its use of hotels, the number was close to 300.
Critics question whether former jails are the right place for foster children. And for many, such placements mean moving far from their home communities, switching to unfamiliar and sometimes segregated foster-child-only schools and losing the chance to live in the care of a parent figure instead of a rotation of shift workers.
“They can be suicidal and homicidal. They can have self-harm or have harmed others.
In Douglas County, Juvenile Department director Aric Fromdahl says his staffers have done what they can to turn one of the two “pods” in their detention center — a grey cinderblock building designed as a youth jail with an enclosed exercise yard — into a welcoming space.
After talking with the girl and hearing from lawyers for her mother, the Sauk-Suiattle Indian Tribe in Washington and the Oregon Department of Human Services, Multnomah County Circuit Court Judge Katherine Tennyson ultimately ruled the facility was an appropriate place for the girl to remain at that time. The state’s attorney pointed to an assessment by the Douglas County facility’s staff that it was the correct placement for the girl.
Sara Gelser, D-Corvallis, who has been a vocal advocate for improving Oregon’s foster care system, said she doesn’t want any foster child to get the message they are being punished or are unworthy of living in a family. Gelser said she has not visited the county juvenile detention centers where the state is sending children in foster care.
Teens from around the state stay at Douglas County’s new River Rock program, including eight from Multnomah County from July through January — one-third of the 25 teenagers in the facility during that time.
In addition to the eight b in the revamped juvenile detention wing, Douglas County operates a 16-bed facility for girls in Roseburg’s former police station and a 16-bed facility for boys in a group home building.
The largest is St.
Mary’s Home for Boys in Beaverton, founded 130 years ago as an orphanage for abandoned and wayward boys, where as many as 42 boys were assigned to live by the state at any given time over the past six months, according to state records.
Unlike private programs, they are not licensed because under Oregon law the state lacks the authority to regulate county-run care operations. A proposal in the Legislature, Senate Bill 181, would change that.
It would hold the county programs to the same standard of child abuse and neglect currently applied to other types of programs. And, by licensing county facilities, it would give the state another tool to force improvements.
Institutionalized Oregon foster children also live in a Grants Pass group home for 12 boys, a psychiatric residential treatment facility and related facilities in Utah, a group home for 14 boys in Salem and scores of other non-home placements.
In a statement to The Oregonian/OregonLive, Wyden said that his law is built around the “accepted principle that families are usually best-suited to prevent trauma for children and to reduce the need for foster care.”
“Oregon has the opportunity to show leadership in this area, and I expect the state will become a full partner in taking advantage of this new law aimed at providing each child a safe, caring, and loving environment.”
Gelser, the state senator, leads a work group overseeing state’s implementation of the federal law.
“It’s about making sure that kids who are vulnerable and have experienced trauma are receiving services in the highest quality, most appropriate and trauma-informed placements that are family-like,” Gelser said during a meeting last year. Under Family First, children should only be placed in institutional settings with more than four children “when it’s absolutely necessary and demonstrated by an assessment,” Gelser said.
“We are the lowest in the nation in congregate care at 4.
As of September, Oregon had placed 5.
Diverting children who might end up in hotels to institutional settings is likely saving the state money. The cost to house a child in a hotel room averages $2,180, according to a child welfare spokesman.
Most of the cost is to pay overtime to the two state workers who must stay with the child at all times. State auditors previously estimated that the Department of Human Services the cost was closer to $1,350 per day.
The state pays Douglas County $352 per day for each child who stays at the River Rock “intensive behavioral support” program, in the repurposed juvenile detention wing. A “short-term stabilization” program for girls run by the Klamath County Juvenile Department and the St.
Mary’s Home for Boys that offers “intensive rehabilitation services” both charge $248 per child per day, according to the Department of Human Services. The agency pays $330 per day to four affiliated programs in Utah, including a psychiatric residential treatment center, to care for Oregon children.
In contrast, the state pays $182 per day to a therapeutic foster care program, Oregon Community Programs in Eugene. The rate covers not only payments to the foster families who typically care for a single child, but also the cost of support from agency staff who hold weekly meetings with foster parents, make a weekly plan for each child and are available for foster parents to reach out to 24 hours a day.
In addition to the lower cost, experts including Casey Family Programs say foster parents with extra training and supports, not county programs and other institutional homes, are the best care Oregon can provide to meet the ne of many children traumatized by family drama and separation, showing extreme behaviors or suffering from anxiety or other mental health conditions.
Instead, child welfare officials have been sending an increasing number of children who might otherwise be housed in hotels to institutions including locked out-of-state residential treatment facilities, as OPB reported earlier this year.
The number of foster children sent out of state reached 82 last year and at least one of the facilities — Clarinda Academy — has been accused of abuse by whom Disability Rights Washington, according to OPB.
The no-hotels settlement was supposed to get more children and teens who’ve been removed from their families into the family-like settings that experts and Oregon’s foster children’s bill of rights say gives them the best chance to flourish.
The 15-year-old girl from Multnomah County who was moved to the Douglas County residential facility, for example, was enthusiastically participating in equine therapy before she was moved. Fromdahl, the Douglas County juvenile department director, said there is a roughly month-long delay to arrange healthcare such as therapy appointments once a child arrives in Roseburg because the child must be reassigned from one “coordinated care organization,” which manages care for Medicaid enrollees, to another.
Teenagers at Douglas County’s highest-level treatment facility, in the detention building, receive two hours of one-on-one counseling per week from staff who have some type of social services bachelor’s degree.
They also participate in a couple hours per week of activities focused on building skills such as anger management and impulse control, which can be led by any program employee if it is designed by counselors, said Treatment Manager Sarah Wickersham. Youth who need alcohol or drug treatment go to appointments at an outpatient program.
Klamath County has taken a similar tack, turning one of its two juvenile detention center “pods” into a “Youth Inspiration Program” for girls in the foster system. It serves girls in the Oregon Youth Authority’s custody for committing crimes in the same pod.
Dan Golden, director of the Klamath County Juvenile Department, said the program has space for nine teenage girls but the governors’ proposal would allow it to grow to serve 24 girls, with half of the b available to girls in the foster system.
Golden said many of the girls in the 90-day program have been sex trafficked.
“So this is a much more secure surrounding to ensure security for these clients and make sure that people aren’t able to just enter the facility,” Golden said. He said that actually happened one time, when a couple of men who had trafficked one of the teens drove down from Portland in an unsuccessful attempt to get her out of the facility.
“We will have an additional 64 … b across the state which will serve our littles, who are kids 5 to 8; our middles, who are 9 to 13; and our children that are — we call them our bigs that are 14 to 20,” Jones said.
Ana Day, executive director of Oregon Community Programs which coordinates a network of therapeutic foster families in Eugene, said the state ne a range of programs for children including some residential treatment facilities. But she emphasized that many children with serious behavioral issues, including self-harm, can succeed in foster homes when the families have enough support and are able to focus on a single foster child with his or her own room.
“Oregon doesn’t have the resources for all of these kids,” Day said. “And if they’re going to build them, it would be smart to think about how do you build the ones that are right for those kids and not just the ones that are right for today.
— Hillary Borrud | firstname.lastname@example.org | 503-294-4034 | @hborrud
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